Viral Loads

Anthropologies of urgency in the time of COVID-19

Edited by Lenore Manderson, Nancy J. Burke, and Ayo Wahlberg

Drawing upon the empirical scholarship and research expertise of contributors from all settled continents and from diverse life settings and economies, Viral Loads illustrates how the COVID-19 pandemic, and responses to it, lay bare and load onto people’s lived realities in countries around the world.

A crosscutting theme pertains to how social unevenness and gross economic disparities are shaping global and local responses to the pandemic, and illustrate the effects of both the virus and efforts to contain it in ways that amplify these inequalities. At the same time, the contributions highlight the nature of contemporary social life, including virtual communication, the nature of communities, neoliberalism and contemporary political economies, and the shifting nature of nation states and the role of government. Over half of the world’s population has been affected by restrictions of movement, with physical distancing requirements and self-isolation recommendations impacting profoundly on everyday life but also on the economy, resulting also, in turn, with dramatic shifts in the economy and in mass unemployment.

By reflecting on how the pandemic has interrupted daily lives, state infrastructures and healthcare systems, the contributing authors in this volume mobilise anthropological theories and concepts to locate the pandemic in a highly connected and exceedingly unequal world. The book is ambitious in its scope – spanning the entire globe – and daring in its insistence that medical anthropology must be a part of the growing calls to build a new world.

Lenore Manderson is Distinguished Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology in the School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Nancy J. Burke is Professor of Public Health and Anthropology and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Endowed Chair, University of California, Merced.

Ayo Wahlberg is Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen.

List of figures
List of tables
List of contributors

1. Introduction: stratified livability and pandemic effects
Ayo Wahlberg, Nancy J. Burke and Lenore Manderson

Part I: The power of the state
2. Care in the time of COVID-19: surveillance, creativity, and sociolismo in
Nancy J. Burke
3. Militarising the pandemic: lockdown in South Africa
Lenore Manderson and Susan Levine
4. Rights, responsibilities, and revelations: COVID-19 conspiracy theories and the state
Elisa J. Sobo and Elżbieta Drążkiewicz

Part II: Exclusion and blame
5. The 2020 Los Angeles uprisings: fighting for Black lives in the midst of COVID-19
Hanna Garth
6. The biopolitics of COVID-19 in the UK: racism, nationalism and the afterlife of colonialism
 Jennie Gamlin, Sahra Gibbon, and Melania Calestani  
7. The shrouds stealers: coronavirus and the viral vagility of prejudice
Aditya Bharawaj
8. Unprecedented times? Romanian Roma and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic
Cristina A. Pop
9. Turkey’s Diyanet and political Islam during the pandemic
 Oğuz Alyanak
10. Citizen vector: scapegoating within communal boundaries in Senegal during the COVID-19 pandemic
Ato Kwamena Onoma  

Part III: Unequal burdens
11. Pandemic policy responses and embodied realities among ‘waste-pickers’ in India
Surekha Garimella, Shrutika Murthy, Lana Whittaker and Rachel Tolhurst
12. The amplification effect: impacts of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Indonesia
Linda Rae Bennett and Setiyani Marta Dewi
13. Vulnerabilities within and beyond the pandemic: disability in COVID-19 Brazil
Claudia Fonseca and Soraya Fleischer
14. ‘You are putting my health at risk’: genes, diets and bioethics under COVID-19 in Mexico
Abril Saldaña-Tejeda
15. Scarcity and resilience in the slums of Dhaka city, Bangladesh
Sabina Faiz Rashid, Selima Kabir, Kim Ozano, Sally Theobald, Bachera Aktar and Aisha Siddika  

Part IV: The reach of care
16. Making do: COVID-19 and the improvisation of care in the UK and US
Ellen Block and Cecilia Vindrola-Padros
17. Carescapes unsettled: COVID-19 and the reworking of ‘stable illnesses’ in welfare state Denmark
Sofie Rosenlund Lau, Marie Kofod Svensson, Natasja Kingod, and Ayo Wahlberg
18. Care within or out of reach: fantasies of care and connectivity in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic
Earvin Charles Cabalquinto and Tanja Ahlin
19. Pandemic times in a WhatsApp-ed nation: gender ideologies in India during COVID-19
Haripriya Narasimhan, Mahati Chittem, and Pooja Purang
20. Purity’s dangers: at the interstices of religion and public health
Tsipy Ivry and Sarah Segal-Katz  

Part V: Lessons for a future
21. Fracturing the pandemic: the logic of separation and infectious disease in Tanzania
Rebecca Marsland
22. Living together in precarious times: COVID-19 in the Philippines
Gideon Lasco  
23. COVID-19 in Italy: a new culture of healthcare for future preparedness
Chiara Bodini and Ivo Quaranta


'The scope of Viral Loads is admirable and informative...abounding in rich ethnographic insights, extended discussion of methodology is limited throughout.   A significant strength of Viral Loads is that its authors, affiliated with institutions on 5 continents, draw their analyses from various parts of the global north and global south: a truly international effort... memorable chapters include Elisa J. Sobo and Elżbieta Drążkiewicz’s theorectically rich discussion of conspiracy theories in Ireland, Poland, and the United States of America ... Marsland's expansive and compelling chapter and Lasco’s vision of interdisciplinary and interspecies ‘convivium’ demonstrates that thick description can bring anthropologists into engagement with many others.'   
The Polyphony

'The scope of Viral Loads is admirable and informative. Its 23 chapters are grounded in Cuba, South Africa, Romania, India, and many other locales, and in topics including conspiracy theories, disability and chronic illness, sexual and reproductive health, gender, racism, and poverty.... A significant strength of Viral Loads is that its authors, affiliated with institutions on 5 continents, draw their analyses from various parts of the global north and global south: a truly international effort....abounding in rich ethnographic insights'
The Polyphony
Viral Loads demonstrates anthropology’s power of description, analysis and theory to capture a global tragedy as it unfolds. This impressive volume brings together anthropologists from around the world, who draw on their own deep knowledge to trace COVID’s impact on social, economic and political life. The authors offer compassionate accounts of the power of the virus to exploit and magnify social and structural vulnerabilities, while they present impassioned arguments of the imperative to address underlying inequalities, local and global, that continue to threaten our very existence.’ – Melissa Parker, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
‘This impressive collection of well researched and preciously substantiated essays shows that evidence-based scholarship has not gone to sleep despite the Covid-19 menace and its imposition of physical and social distancing. If anything, the pandemic has introduced an urgency to social enquiry informed by improvisation and complementarity between virtual and face-to-face encounters.’ – Francis B. Nyamnjoh, University of Cape Town
‘In Viral Loads, the editors and contributors offer a penetrating analysis of how, worldwide, the COVID pandemic has exposed and exploited the racially, socioeconomically and globally uneven ways in which people live; it demands, in response, that we extend our rationales emergent from anthropological and interdisciplinary architectures. This broad and intensive work is as much a book of the academy as it is of the heart, with enormously important ramifications for humankind in the present and for the future. As the authors sort through the global mess our species has managed to create, they argue the urgency to address underlying social, political, and ecological dimension of inequality, acute stratifications, economic disjunctions, forced human migrations, and political lethargy; without this, we are doomed to face many more rounds of equivalent pandemic disasters. From the Amazon to the Sonoran Desert, and from Pretoria to Mumbai, the narrative is excruciatingly tragic yet ironically hopeful. All are immensely tired of seeing death visiting unequally, but none have permitted their exhaustion to diminish their commitment to enhance the lives of the communities and people whom they champion and to speak to power. This is a magnificent work of action and reflection that must be read carefully and with care. To not do so is to ensure the present as the continuing model for the future.’ – Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez, Arizona State University

Format: Paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

488 Pages

20 B&W illustrations

Copyright: © 2021

ISBN: 9781800080249

Publication: September 20, 2021

Series: Embodying Inequalities: Perspectives from Medical Anthropology

Scroll to top